Daily Archives: April 26, 2010

“What Drives ‘animal researchers’ Like Me?”

As World Week for Animals in Laboratories (a week of animal rights misinformation) comes to a close, we have a guest post from Nancy Haigwood, director at Oregon National Primate Research Center (ONPRC). This piece reflects well the frustration felt by many scientists about animal rights activists misrepresent the noble cause of scientists who work on lifesaving research. Tom

I’m a health researcher who studies animals in order to develop new treatments and cures. When you hear protesters claiming that research animals are mistreated, they are yelling about me.

So what drives “animal researchers” like me?

Simply put, our view is that because animal studies lead to improved human health, they should be considered acceptable – provided the studies are highly regulated, the animals are well cared for, and suffering is not allowed. This is not a unique view. It’s also shared by the National Institutes of Health, the American Medical Association and the American Veterinary Medical Association.

What have these guiding principles resulted in? Here are advancements from various labs in the past three weeks alone:

  • Mouse research has revealed how a genetic mutation may cause Parkinson’s disease (link)
  • Research in ducks has revealed a gene that might potentially shield humans from the flu (link)
  • Researchers studying mice learned that insulin-producing cells can be reborn in the body – a significant finding for those with Type One diabetes (link)
  • A blood-flow study in zebrafish has highlighted a possible method for suppressing cancer tumor growth
  • A mouse study suggests a new theory for the cause of Down syndrome: missing proteins in the brain (link)
  • A rodent study reveals that the anti-nausea drug Dramamine could be used during a heart attack to prevent heart damage.
  • And finally, as The Oregonian reported on April 2, monkey studies here at OHSU have solved one of the key mysteries about infections resulting from the virus cytomegalovirus (CMV), a disease that causes brain damage to 8,000 newborns each year.

Animal activists often reject these kinds of discoveries claiming that animal studies are outdated and that all of these breakthroughs could be made in test tubes or with computer models. But in reality, no test tube can simulate the complex immune response of an animal and no computer can mimic a real, breathing lung. Before we can try therapies in real human patients we must study a similar living system first.

In response to our studies, local organizers of World Week for Animals in Laboratories have promised us a wide range of activities. They’ve announced plans of legal protests but also some more menacing-sounding acts too.

According to a Web posting by the anonymous Portland Animal Defense League, the week will include “daytime demos” (we’ve learned that’s usually code for harassing a researcher’s family at home), “office demos” (code for invading a lab or office) and a “surprise action.” The activists also plan to protest the March of Dimes’ annual March for Babies which raises funds to prevent premature births and their devastating impacts to a child who comes too early.

I fully understand and support each person’s right to legally protest when they have concerns. But Illegal actions are different. OHSU researchers have had our homes and cars vandalized. Our children have been terrorized by masked individuals who show up on our doorsteps. We’ve received threats from the Animal Liberation Front that our houses will be firebombed.

As Portlanders, we take pride in the city’s activist culture. However, surely we all agree that harassment, stalking and death threats have no place in our city. Especially when the core issue – health research – benefits so many.

Nancy L. Haigwood, Ph.D.
Senior Scientist/Director, Oregon National Primate Research Center
Vaccine & Gene Therapy Institute
Professor, Molecular Microbiology & Immunology
Oregon Health & Science University